It often seems like the people who care the least about Canadian cinema are Canadians themselves. Of course that’s not necessarily our fault — mainstream media constantly pushes American product in our faces. Who cares if we make films when the new Marvel movie is coming out next week?
Which is why REEL CANADA is a very important thing. Now in its ninth season, this grassroots organization brings Canadian films into Canadian schools, exposing kids to a national cinema that they might have been completely unaware of. After achieving widespread success with that endeavour, they’ve taken on their biggest initiative yet: Tuesday, April 29 is the first annual National Canadian Film Day, a nationwide celebration of our artistic and cultural achievements in film. Over 30 communities will host screenings of various Canadian films and a handful of online and broadcast outlets will be devoted to Canadian programming as well.
REEL CANADA founders Jack Blum and Sharon Corder are the masterminds behind this project and they took some time out of their busy schedules to talk to Toronto Film Scene about the necessities of bringing Canadian cinema to the forefront.
“We were hitting some kind of sweet spot, so we thought, maybe we should try to see if we could extend that invitation to the general public in Canada which knows very little about Canadian film,” Blum explains about REEL CANADA. “Make it a day, try and get some awareness and make them available.”
“Here’s the story that tells exactly what we’re doing and why,” Corder jumps in. “I was seeing a doctor who was giving me sedation. Very elegant man with a beautiful tie and very well spoken. To distract me while he was sedating me, he said, ‘What do you do?’ And I was trying to explain what I did and he got really stuck on this idea of Canadian film. He said, ‘What do you mean, Canadian film? Films about Canada?’ I said, ‘Well some of them are and some of them aren’t.’ He said, ‘You mean films made by the government?’ I said, ‘Well the government sometimes helps financially, but no, you know, movies. Like comedies, dramas, documentaries…’ He was really baffled by this, and he said, ‘Where would I get them?’ And that encapsulates the entire problem. First, do you know you live in a country that makes movies? Second, if you did, do you know where to find them?”
The sad reality behind this is that people just aren’t exposed to Canadian art anymore. “When I was growing up, there were things like The Beachcombers, which was cheesy, but it was Canadian and you got a sense of that,” Blum remembers. “Kids don’t have that nowadays.” Instead, there’s an onslaught of American entertainment flooding in. “One of the things that Sharon says to the kids sometimes is that these movies are sort of like our collective dreams,” he continues. “Can you imagine waking up one morning having had someone else’s dreams? Never dreaming about your family, your friends, where you live, but constantly dreaming about the rich kids down the street?”
Another problem is that Canadian distributors don’t show much interest in getting behind Canadian movies either, particularly past the theatrical stage, resulting in far too many films that are long out of print or have never even been available on DVD. “Something like Goin’ Down the Road,” Blum surmises. “We know about it, the industry knows about it, if you learn anything about Canadian film you know about it. But that’s such a small percentage of the population, so how can a distributor keep Goin’ Down the Road on the shelf if there’s no demand for it? So we’re trying to create demand, then it spirals upward.”
The whole genesis and preparation for National Canadian Film Day has been a short and hectic one, but major sponsorship from Cineplex and Telefilm, among many others, has moved things along. “This idea didn’t exist seven weeks ago and now it’s across the country,” Corder says. “It’s been quite stupid but we’re getting it out there and people have responded that quickly. This has had solid support from the industry all the way.”
There will be special guests at screenings today all throughout the country. Here in Toronto, for example, Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar will be attending back-to-back screenings of Highway 61 and Last Night at the Royal Cinema. “There’s a great event happening in Sault Ste Marie,” Sharon adds, “where a few Olympic champion curlers are going to introduce Men With Brooms.”
“It’s amazing the people that say, ‘what can I do, what can I do on the day?’” Blum says.
The promotional materials put together in anticipation of National Canadian Film Day have not been without a sense of humour, in order to dispel some of the seriousness traditionally associated with Canadian film. “It’s very difficult to not have it sound like this is good for you,” Blum explains. “Our point is, these are great movies.” Corder puts it a different way. “This is candy. This is not medicine.”
Throughout these struggles, they remain optimistic about the state of Canadian cinema. “There’s a wealth of product every year,” Sharon says. “I feel like the product is only getting better. Now we want people to understand that these films exist. I want my doctor to know that he lives in a country that makes movies, that makes great movies that he would like. No matter what your taste in movies is, you’re going to find something Canadian that you’ll really like.”